(This article is part of the ongoing column 12 Steps to Success.)


Anger surges through you, and you feel your face flush. The receptionist has headed back to the desk after dumping a pile of medical records on top of the paperwork you were busily filling out. “You left those up front,” she says as she turns the corner. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you are on your feet, fists clenched.

Primary emotions like fear, anger, happiness, and sadness often spur us to action before rational thought kicks in. Because they have helped us survive, evolution has caused our brain to give emotions high priority when it comes to decision-making. We also have little control over their appearance in our minds.1

Once emotions arise, awareness (and control) of them may be the single most important aspect of our ability to lead and manage effectively. Unfortunately, according to Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, only about 36% of us have the ability to accurately identify our emotions as they are happening. The rest of us are ruled by our feelings when in the moment.1 This limits our effectiveness as communicators, practitioners, patient caregivers, and leaders.

There is no doubt that understanding our emotions and motivations empowers us to be more realistic about our own tendencies and abilities. Simply put: self-awareness is the basis of emotional intelligence.

In fact, self-awareness is a key element to success, says Anthony Tjan, co-author ofHeart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck, who writes:There is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness…Without self-awareness, you cannot understand your strengths and weaknesses, your “super powers” versus your “kryptonite.”2

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